When you hear the term “invasive species” you may think of Burmese Pythons living in the Florida Everglades as a result of intention releases or escapes of pet snakes into the somewhat fragile, one-of-a-kind ecosystem. The subtropical wetlands are currently found nowhere else on Earth. The pythons grow to exceedingly large proportions and consume some of Florida’s most prized wildlife.
Perhaps, rather you think of the Lion Fish. Native to the Indio-Pacific it’s also a favorite in the aquarium realm. As a result of pet release, the Lion Fish continues to expand it’s population in the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean, out-competing with native species and causing damage to those natural reefs.
However, you may not put a cute, little, gregarious bird that visits your backyard feeder in the same villainous category as snakehaeds, zebra mussels, or Asian carp (all highly invasive species that wreak havoc on the ecosystems they continue to infiltrate.) Yet, the House Sparrow (a bird native to Europe that history claims escaped from a zoo exhibit in the late 1800s) has expanded it range to cover all of the USA and southern Canada, most of Central America and about half of South America! House Sparrows are cavity nesters. They seek and assume ownership of any hole with the right dimensions to built their nest and rear their clutches of baby House Sparrows. They are not only tolerant, but attracted to living around human establishments. Their omnivorous diet helps them thrive a myriad of locations. It’s likely that the bird to which you tossed a scrap of bread in a park or fast food restaurant parking lot was a House Sparrow!
They compete heavily with native species that use cavities in which to nest like the lovely Eastern Bluebird, the acrobatic Tree Swallow, House Wren, Black-capped Chickadee and Tufted Titmouse. They don’t seem to care about the size of the hole and we’ve had them build nests inside boxes made for owls which are far deeper than a standard Bluebird box, which they will also inhabit. For that reason, House Sparrow are scoundrels in many people’s minds – including mine. I have watched House Sparrows out-compete Bluebirds and Tree swallows many times for boxes we offer for the native species.
And yet, when I am out filming I often aim and shoot at any bird even if I cannot immediately recognize it from my distance. After all, it could end up being a species I have never filmed (like the Harris’s sparrow I captured last week!) I often end up with photos of House Sparrows and just as often I refrain from including them in my blog because….well, I’m not truly certain.
On the other hand, I’m absolutely certain that the House Sparrows that exist next to all the native species are unaware that they don’t belong here. They are just making a living in the way that their genetic heritability dictates. It’s not uncommon for a photographer to film scoundrels of all sorts. Sometimes, the most artistic of photographers is able to make even the ugly things in life appear very beautiful.
Is it so wrong to film and publish shunned subjects? And, is the photographer that makes the images available automatically sympathetic to these avian ne’er-do-wells? I hope not. For here I share a few images of House Sparrows in the only home they know. But, let it be known that my heart breaks every time I witness House Sparrows negatively impacting our native birds and we do our best to discourage their reproduction. I have previously posted about our “planned parenthood” strategy for House Sparrow occupation of the nest boxes we offer the wild birds. Here I show their natural beauty for they know not their transgressions.